“Bine-baby mo naman eh!” is a phrase Filipinos say when they feel a parent is spoiling a child. After all, a child needs to “toughen up,” as they say. But, witnessing a parent sternly shout, “Tumigil ka!” to a teary-eyed preschooler isn’t always preferable either (you also get those stares of judgment). So, what’s one to do?
Experts say the key to discipline and resilience is to send this message: “I’m here for you, but I also trust that you can do this.” This is according to Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard Center for Toddler Development and author of How Toddlers Thrive, in a feature on Slate.
You want to be there for your child when she scrapes her knee at the playground but you also want her to get back on the swing again.
Expressions of difficult feelings should not be automatically seen as “bad behavior”
From a grown-up's perspective, it can feel like preschoolers cry about so many little things all the time —forgetting a stuffed bunny at home, running out of cookies in the cupboard, finding carrots in his spaghetti. It becomes easy to dismiss our kids’ feelings and snap at them with a “stop crying!” However, there are no right and wrong emotions, experts say, and to let your child express his emotions is healthy for him.
Says developmental psychologist Ashley Soderlund, “The golden rule is emotions are never the enemy, even when they are exaggerated.”
She adds, “Children need to practice expressing emotions and learn to deal with them. That leads to resilience.”
Saying “stop crying” may only make your child cry more, or stop but also feel hurt and scared. It’s better to be caring, experts agree, but there’s also a way to do so without feeling like you’re raising a child who’ll cry at every minor mishap. Let your child know that you understand what she’s feeling and then guide her in finding a solution to her problem to make her feel better.
How to let your child know you understand her — and lessen the waterworks
“Most of the time, when kids (and adults) feel their emotions are understood and accepted, the feelings lose their charge and begin to dissipate,” says Dr. Laura Markham, a psychologist and parenting expert, in an article for Aha! Parenting.
Here’s an example of what you can say to comfort a child who’s crying because you’ve left the house without her favorite toy: “I know you feel bad that we’ve left your bunny at home. It’s hard to feel sad.”
Often, just verbally recognizing that your child feels bad is enough to at least avoid full-on bawling. “This leaves an opening for problem-solving,” said Dr. Markham. “Sometimes, kids can do this themselves. Sometimes, they need your help to brainstorm.”
Now that your child is a little calmer, you can then say something like, “What do you think can make you feel better? We have your favorite blanket with us and this board book as well.”
Avoid rescuing your child every time something is hard
To help your child learn to handle strong emotions (and lessen episodes of “frantic antics”), avoid being the hovering parent and doing everything you possibly can just to calm your child down. Let him know that he has the capacity to do this on his own.
Says Dr. Markham, “Resist the urge to handle the problem for them unless they ask you to; that gives kids the message that you don't have confidence in his ability to handle it himself.”
Keeping your temper in check spreads positivity throughout your day while simultaneously instilling long-term skills in your child as well as nurturing the bond you have for each other.
“It is crucial to remember that when children feel validated, they will be better able to hear you and change their behaviors,” says Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, a psychologist specializing in child and adolescent therapy, in an article on Psychology Today. “Stay mindful of how important this is not only to you child, but also to your relationship with him or her.”